Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Google Searchwiki

I must be out of touch, I was wondering what these extra buttons were in my search results and then I find out its this new google searchwiki stuff. While the concept is cool I just don't see any value for me and I like less on my screen. I think its a mistake not to let people shut it off. And no, I don't want to log out of my account just to turn it off.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Home phones and cell phones

Yet another underground wire failure on the phone line to the barn
made me look into a better solution for a phone line out there. My
barn is 600+ feet away from the house and there are lots of walls in
between. When we moved in there was a phone line buried going to the
barn which worked for a while. After a few years it shorted out. They
used basic inside phone cord to run it through some pipes in the
ground. When we split the electric service I had some real phone line
buried and that worked for 5 years but now its shorting out again. I
can go try to chase it down but its buried and i'm not digging up my
property again.

I researched the latest DECT 6.0 cordless phones but they still dont
have super range of the nature i'm looking for. Ultimately I decided
to add another cell phone to my wife's cell plan. I got a contractor
type phone (water/weather proof) for free and increased the bill by
$10/month and now we have a barn phone that works everywhere we could
need it and no range issues.

So now that I have 3 cell phones (myself, wife and barn) and a kid
soon to have her own, what am I paying $45/month for a home phone for?
I looked into that, and here are a few reasons:

1) 911 service - cell phone 911 calls don't pinpoint you or get quite
the same response time that home phones do.
2) Everyone knows our home number which is also considered our
business phone number. Its also easy to remember (yes we could port it
somewhere else)
3) If we take our cells away from the house and something happens are
we going to trust that the people left have a cell phone? There's now
one in the barn but perhaps not the house
4) Who knows how much that kid will talk on the phone once she
discovers it?

For now i'm keeping it although it seems kind of silly.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Recently I had the opportunity for some business related reasons as well as for some personal related reasons to try to collaborate on some word processing and spreadsheet documents. I figured this was a good opportunity to try the whole Software as a Service (SaaS) model and started using the Google Docs

I found the word processor easy to use but with Safari it had some odd behaviors at times in rendering the page and some basic copy/paste operations. Generally it worked and I liked the auto-save and accessible anywhere model. As you'd expect the word processor is severely stripped down from a MS Word or Apple Pages but for basic documents its ok. 

For the spreadsheet I was surprised at how well it worked given the more advanced problems you run into with rows and columns, formula and spreadsheet tabs. To do things like graphing you need to get plug-ins and I didn't have a good experience with that. I was was just looking to do a basic line graph over time and it was a real pain. But again for basic spreadsheet functions it worked well and again I could get at  it anywhere.

Along the way I also found a nice hack in that if you import a protected Excel spreadsheet into Google Docs it essentially unprotects it for you and you can re-export as Excel. I think Microsoft should rename that "Protect from idiots" since there are so many ways to remove spreadsheet protection.
After I had some content I tried to collaborate with others and thats where SaaS failed for me. I ran into a number of issues:

1) Just accessing the document as I sent the share invite seemed to be a problem for ALL of the people I tried to share with. The interface is simple, pick a document, choose share and then enter an email address or addresses. People get an invite with a link etc. Clinking the link lets them see the document (in the case of spreadsheets at least not all of the document) but they can't edit. 

2) To edit/collaborate they need a google account. Despite what Google thinks, not everyone has (or wants) a google account. I can understand why they needed to link the docs in somewhere but this is asking people to create a new identity etc and adds a barrier to them using it.

3) For those that got past the two above there were problems with the interface oddities, understanding the new applications and as we tried to collaborate we found the tools weak in the areas of comments, suggested changes, side by side versions etc. Ultimately we gave up. 

So to me the current SaaS offering from google with Google Docs is appropriate for single user document editing when you need access anywhere and assuming you have a google ID and are willing to learn new tools. If you need to collaborate i'd look elsewhere. 

With the personal need I fell back to the tried and true method of email Excel spreadsheets around. For the business related need i'm currently using DropBox. More to come on that experience.


I've mentioned in the past how Intuit has been pathetically slow to update Quicken for the Mac. Intuit still has yet to introduce an Intel native version of the Quicken for the Mac. The last time I bought Quicken was the 2005 version because I refused to buy an application that didn't run natively on the machines I bought after that.

Anyway, recently Quicken Online went the free route along the lines of and a few others. I've been interested in the Software as a Service (SaaS) model for a while and decided to give it a try. Generally I don't need to reconcile all my accounts but want to know whats going on and be able to see where my money is going. I want to do that in one place. Some of my banks offer the "one stop to see all your finances" but their products are inferior to Quicken Online and Mint. 

I've been using Quicken Online for a few weeks now and have moved away from the desktop version. While the desktop version has more flexible reporting and has the ability to reconcile I find I can still keep on top of my finances without that. One drawback to these online services is if your data can't be downloaded from the source you can't see it. That means you can't do Net Worth type stuff including your house, cars etc as there's no way to enter it.

This brings me to By all i've heard its supposed to be better than Quicken Online which you'd expect from an up-and-coming Web 2.0 type company with a new business model. I attempted to use it by creating an account and linking in my checking account. I bank with RBS Citizens bank, a bank with a large US East Coast presence, and found  out that Mint doesn't support them. Unlike other product models, for these kinds of services they either support your banks, credit cards etc, or they don't. When they don't its not a matter of whether you link them or not, you just can't use their service. Black and white. Mint could have the best management tools out there but since they don't support my bank there's no chance I can use them until they do.

Friday, November 14, 2008


A friend introduced me to Evernote a while back and while I think its a cool app, I just can't get into yet another program that wants to own my data. The one cool feature it has is the ability to recognize (OCR) text within images and it can do this with some pretty lousy images. Its not enough value to me to move away from a tried and true files approach. The synchronization ability can be done for files (dropbox etc). 

Now if it was just a content management application referencing my files then i'd have the best of both worlds. But then it still would have little value to me and I wouldn't pay. Perhaps they need to find a different approach to bringing their OCR technology to market?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

iCal reminders

Apple really hasn't thought out the iCal reminder system. They
encourage you to use MobileMe to sync your macs but when you do the
alarms get sync'd too. Thats fine if they just pop up a reminder. But
if you have them send out emails or txt messages it means you get
duplicate reminders from all the systems that are sync'd. You also get
late/out of sync ones if, for example, one of your sync'd macs is a
notebook thats been asleep through the event and just woke up and
found out it was overdue to remind you.

Seems like they need to move the notification mechanism to the
MobileMe cloud and do it from a central location.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Back to my Mac & SSH

I've mentioned in the past that I only have 1 port open to the outside
world for remote access to my home computer. Its for SSH traffic and
isn't over the standard SSH port and requires a SSL certificate. Given
that, how do I do the "Back to my Mac thing"?

From the client you're accessing the machine from:

1) You need the SSL cert
2) Create a SSH tunnel for the "back to my mac" remote desktop:
sudo ssh -p <some port> <dns name of host machine> -l <host user
name> -L 8888:
3) Now in Safari open up this URL:

Sure its not as simple as "Back to my mac" but then again i'm not
asking for the world of Unix and Mac hackers to attack port 5900
looking for VNC like security flaws.